Chief football writer Phil Hay looks at the ramifications for Leeds United if sport Capital’s deal to take over the Elland Road club is not agreed.
1: WHERE DOES THE SEASON GO FROM HERE?
The transfer window closes a week tomorrow and Leeds United have signed two players, Jimmy Kebe and Cameron Stewart. On the basis of what Brian McDermott said before the start of January, that is half as many deals as he wanted the club to complete.
Without the impact of internal disagreements, he would have made Ashley Barnes his third signing a fortnight ago but the boardroom dispute over that transfer and Leeds’ failure to pay a £500,000 fee was indicative of problems developing between Sport Capital and Gulf Finance House.
United have been linked with several other strikers this week – Danny Graham, Luke Moore, Leroy Lita, Matty Fryatt – but it is plain to see that the attention of Leeds’ existing owner and the consortium bidding to buy the club is fixed on the issues delaying and complicating Sport Capital’s takeover. Two weeks have passed since Kebe arrived on loan from Crystal Palace and United have the look of a club suffering from a sudden vacuum of authority.
Officials at GFH opposed the Barnes deal and were not overruled. What confidence can McDermott have of receiving more solid support before January 31, particularly if the takeover is on the edge? This, remember, is a coach who talked about getting his business done early and avoiding an appearance on Sky Sports News’ deadline-day extravaganza. He is also a coach who talked about “having a go” at promotion during the second half of the season. A club paralysed by confusion so late in January does not give him much chance.
2: WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR UNITED’S MANAGER?
GFH’s influence in the aborted deal to sign Barnes from Brighton was hardly a resounding vote of confidence in McDermott. In fact, it was old-fashioned interference preventing him from buying a player who, while not the Championship’s premier goalscorer, was an outside-the-box target who McDermott clearly identified carefully.
The United manager is a fan of David Haigh and acting chief executive Paul Hunt, and he spoke positively about the individuals behind Sport Capital last weekend, describing them as “spot on”. There is no doubt that Sport Capital have confidence in him and no suggestion that their faith has diminished during Leeds’ run of five straight defeats.
But if Sport Capital’s purchase collapses, responsibility for decision-making and – perhaps more crucially – funding reverts to GFH until another buyer is found. McDermott would be working for a Bahraini bank which no longer wants the stress of owning more than a minority stake. It’s a minefield for a manager and a difficult environment to thrive in.
3: WHERE WOULD SHORT-TERM FUNDING COME FROM?
If Sport Capital’s claim that they invested £6m in Leeds before the turn of the year is strictly accurate, it is plainly obvious that GFH is no longer providing the weight of funds needed to run the club. Several sources say GFH’s financial input has decreased markedly since last summer, and the bank’s willingness to sell a majority stake suggests it is no longer committed to running the show.
Over the past seven months Leeds have taken a number of payments from outside sources. Dubai-based Brendale Holdings, of which Haigh is a director, made a loan to the club during the close season and Berrydale Seventh Sport Holdings – another firm set up by Haigh in Dubai – provided more cash in October. The following month, Sport Capital put up around £1million in advance of its deal to buy out GFH.
There have been transfers in that period and contract extensions too but some of the money loaned to Leeds was used to cover wages and other day-to-day costs. That raises two concerns about a failed Sport Capital bid – firstly, that the group seek to withdraw the funds they have injected, and secondly, that they leave behind a firm without the will or the cash to prop United up.
4: HOW QUICKLY COULD OTHER BUYERS BE FOUND?
One rival group has been watching this situation throughout – the consortium who bid a reported £7million for Leeds in mid-November, shortly before Haigh and his backers agreed terms with GFH.
That rival consortium was made up of Mike Farnan, the former Sunderland and Manchester United employee, one-time Hull City chairman Adam Pearson, Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity, Frank Devoy – a business associate of Farnan’s – and ex-United captain Lucas Radebe. The group have made no further offers since their original bid was rejected by Leeds but they claim that Sport Capital’s agreement essentially gave Haigh and company the right to tie up their purchase without GFH engaging other parties. The consortium led by Farnan is not believed to have held direct talks with officials at GFH in Bahrain so any plan to step in and replace Sport Capital would need time and space to move forward. It is, however, a potential fall-back.
Reports in Italy, meanwhile, name Massimo Cellino – the owner of Serie A club Cagliari – as another would-be buyer. Italian newspaper L’Unione Sarda says Cellino has turned his attention to Leeds with Cagliari’s season going nowhere. He and club vice-president Giancarlo Matteoli have seemingly been in London since last weekend. Cellino tried to buy West Ham in 2010 but lost out to David Gold and David Sullivan. “England didn’t want me,” he said.
5: WHAT FUTURE FOR THE BOARD AT ELLAND ROAD?
This was essentially a management buy-out of Leeds, led by Haigh and supported by others around him in the boardroom. Their authority hangs on completion, as does the credibility of the assurances given to McDermott over the past two months. Little wonder they are fighting so hard to keep the deal afloat.